Definition of a Legal Separation in Iowa

Separated couple sitting on couch
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Couples sometimes opt for legal separation rather than divorce because of religious beliefs held by one or both spouses. Other couples choose legal separation to allow one spouse to retain health insurance coverage under the other spouse's policy. Many couples hold the mistaken belief that because they have lived apart for years or even decades, they are legally separated. However, in a state like Iowa that recognizes legal separation, unless a petition has been filed, this is not the case. Couples may file for legal separation independently, with legal advice or by using resources available from online legal documentation providers.


A legal separation allows couples to live apart from one another with many of the rights and obligations of divorce, including spousal maintenance, child custody and child support, and the legal division of marital property. However, in the eyes of the law, the couple is still married, which means that neither spouse is free to marry anyone else. In the 21st century, legal separation is much less common than in the past, when few states allowed no-fault divorce, and there was significant social stigma associated with divorce.

Iowa Legal Separation

Iowa Code Annotated; Sections 598.5, 598.6, 598.17, and 598.28 recognizes legal separation if there is "a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the legitimate objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved." At least one spouse must be an Iowa resident. If the person seeking the legal separation is not an Iowa resident, the other spouse must live in Iowa and must be served separation papers in person. Otherwise, the person seeking legal separation must have been an Iowa resident for at least one year prior to filing a petition for legal separation.

Read More: What Are the Benefits of Legal Separation Vs. Divorce?

Property, Custody and Tax Matters

Iowa is an "equitable distribution" state, which means that all property possessed by both spouses, except for inheritances and gifts, is divided between spouses in the event of a legal separation or divorce. This is true whether the property involved was acquired before or during the marriage. Among the elements included in a legal separation agreement are whether one spouse retains possession of the family home, custody and support for minor children, allocation of debts and spousal support payments.


Because legally separated spouses are still married, each spouse may still be liable for the debts and financial obligations of the other spouse, unless the separation agreement specifically states otherwise. However, legally separated spouses are free to move wherever they choose, although custody arrangements may place limitations on a spouse who wishes to make a move far away with the couple's children. Many legally separated couples feel free to date others, but if the couple later divorces, this may cause complications.

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